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[G.R. No. 158563.

June 30, 2005]


AIR TRANSPORTATION OFFICE (ATO) and MACTAN-CEBU INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AUTHORITY (MCIAA), petitioners, vs. APOLONIO
GOPUCO, JR., respondent.
FACTS:
Respondent Apolonio Gopuco, Jr. was the owner of Cadastral Lot No. 72 consisting of 995 square meters located in the vicinity of the Lahug Airport
in Cebu City covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 13061-T.
Sometime in 1949, the NAC (National Airport Corporation) informed the owners of the various lots surrounding the Lahug Airport, including the
herein respondent, that the government was acquiring their lands for purposes of expansion. Some landowners were convinced to sell their properties on
the assurance that they would be able to repurchase the same when these would no longer be used by the airport. Others, including Gopuco, refused to
do so.
Thus, on 16 April 1952, the CAA (Civil Aeronautics Administration) filed a complaint with the Court of First Instance (CFI) of Cebu for the
expropriation of Lot No. 72 and its neighboring realties, docketed as Civil Case No. R-1881.
CFI granted the complaint. No appeal was taken from the Decision on Lot No. 72, and the judgment of condemnation became final and executory.
Thereafter, on 23 May 1962, absolute title to Lot No. 72 was transferred to the Republic of the Philippines under TCT No. 25030. [5]
Subsequently, when the Mactan International Airport commenced operations, the Lahug Airport was ordered closed by then President Corazon C.
Aquino in a Memorandum of 29 November 1989.[6] Lot No. 72 was thus virtually abandoned.[7]
On 16 March 1990, Gopuco wrote [8] the Bureau of Air Transportation, through the manager of the Lahug Airport, seeking the return of his lot and
offering to return the money previously received by him as payment for the expropriation. This letter was ignored. [9]
In the same year, Congress passed Republic Act No. 6958 creating the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) and in part providing
for the transfer of the assets of the Lahug Airport thereto. Consequently, on 08 May 1992, ownership of Lot No. 72 was transferred to MCIAA under TCT
No. 120356.[10]
On 06 August 1992, Apolonio Gopuco, Jr. filed an amended complaint [11] for recovery of ownership of Lot No. 72 against the Air Transportation
Office[12] and the Province of Cebu with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Cebu, Branch X, docketed as Civil Case No. CEB-11914. He maintained that by
virtue of the closure of the Lahug Airport, the original purpose for which the property was expropriated had ceased or otherwise been abandoned, and
title to the property had therefore reverted to him.
Gopuco further alleged that when the original judgment of expropriation had been handed down, and before they could file an appeal thereto, the
CAA offered them a compromise settlement whereby they were assured that the expropriated lots would be resold to them for the same price as when it
was expropriated in the event that the Lahug Airport would be abandoned. Gopuco claims to have accepted this offer. [13] However, he failed to present
any proof on this matter, and later admitted that insofar as the said lot was concerned, no compromise agreement was entered into by the government
and the previous owners.[14]
Lastly, Gopuco asserted that he had come across several announcements in the papers that the Lahug Airport was soon to be developed into a
commercial complex, which he took to be a scheme of the Province of Cebu to make permanent the deprivation of his property.
TRIAL COURT: Dismissed the complaint.
CA: Overturned the RTC decision

ISSUE:
WHETHER THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN HOLDING THAT RESPONDENT HAS THE RIGHT TO RECLAIM OWNERSHIP OVER THE SUBJECT EXPROPRIATED
LOT BASED ON THE IMPORT OF THE DECEMBER 29, 1961 DECISION IN CIVIL CASE NO. 1881.
HELD: CA ERRED
CFIs defense:
The fact of abandonment or closure of the Lahug Airport admitted by the defendant did not by itself, result in the reversion of the subject property back
to the plaintiff. Nor did it vest in the plaintiff the right to demand reconveyance of said property.

When real property has been acquired for public use unconditionally, either by eminent domain or by purchase, the abandonment or non-use of the real
property, does not ipso facto give to the previous owner of said property any right to recover the same (Fery vs. Municipality of Cabanatuan, 42 Phil. 28).
[18]

CAs defense:
The expropriation of the property was conditioned on its continued devotion to its public purpose. Thus, although the MCIAA stressed that nothing in the
judgment of expropriation expressly stated that the lands would revert to their previous owners should the public use be terminated or abandoned, the
Court of Appeals nevertheless ruled that,
Moreover, the foundation of the right to exercise the power of eminent domain is genuine necessity. Condemnation is justified only if it is for the public
good and there is genuine necessity of a public character. Thus, when such genuine necessity no longer exists as when the State abandons the property
expropriated, government interest must yield to the private right of the former land owner, whose property right was disturbed as a consequence of the
exercise of eminent domain.
SC:
In Fery, the Court asked and answered the same question confronting us now: When private land is expropriated for a particular public use, and
that particular public use is abandoned, does the land so expropriated return to its former owner? [22]
When land has been acquired for public use in fee simple, unconditionally, either by the exercise of eminent domain or by purchase,
the former owner retains no rights in the land, and the public use may be abandoned or the land may be devoted to a different use,
without any impairment of the estate or title acquired, or any reversion to the former owner. (Fort Wayne vs. Lake Shore, etc. Ry. Co., 132
Ind., 558; 18 L.R.A., 367.) (Emphases Supplied)[23]
Eminent domain is generally described as the highest and most exact idea of property remaining in the government that may be acquired for
some public purpose through a method in the nature of a forced purchase by the State. [32] Also often referred to as expropriation and, with less
frequency, as condemnation, it is, like police power and taxation, an inherent power of sovereignty and need not be clothed with any constitutional gear
to exist; instead, provisions in our Constitution on the subject are meant more to regulate, rather than to grant, the exercise of the power. It is a right to
take or reassert dominion over property within the state for public use or to meet a public exigency and is said to be an essential part of governance
even in its most primitive form and thus inseparable from sovereignty. [33] In fact, all separate interests of individuals in property are held of the
government under this tacit agreement or implied reservation. Notwithstanding the grant to individuals, the eminent domain, the highest and most
exact idea of property, remains in the government, or in the aggregate body of people in their sovereign capacity; and they have the right to resume
the possession of the property whenever the public interest so requires it.[34]
The ubiquitous character of eminent domain is manifest in the nature of the expropriation proceedings. Expropriation proceedings are not
adversarial in the conventional sense, for the condemning authority is not required to assert any conflicting interest in the property. Thus, by filing the
action, the condemnor in effect merely serves notice that it is taking title and possession of the property, and the defendant asserts title or interest in
the property, not to prove a right to possession, but to prove a right to compensation for the taking. [35]
The only direct constitutional qualification is thus that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. [36] This
prescription is intended to provide a safeguard against possible abuse and so to protect as well the individual against whose property the power is
sought to be enforced.[37]
In this case, the judgment on the propriety of the taking and the adequacy of the compensation received have long become final. We have also
already held that the terms of that judgment granted title in fee simple to the Republic of the Philippines. Therefore, pursuant to our ruling in Fery, as
recently cited in Reyes v. National Housing Authority,[38] no rights to Lot No. 72, either express or implied, have been retained by the herein respondent.
The trial court was thus correct in denying Gopucos claim for the reconveyance of Lot No. 72 in his favor. However, for failure of the petitioners to
present any proof that this case was clearly unfounded or filed for purposes of harassment, or that the herein respondent acted in gross and evident bad
faith, the reimposition of litigation expenses and costs has no basis. It is not sound public policy to set a premium upon the right to litigate where such
right is exercised in good faith, as in the present case. [42]
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 49898 dated 28 February 2001, and its Resolution
of 22 May 2003 are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Decision of RTC-Branch X of Cebu dated 20 May 1994 in Civil Case No. CEB-11914 is
REINSTATED with the modification that the award of exemplary damages, litigation expenses and costs are DELETED.
SO ORDERED.